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The music of M83 imagines a world without gravity, although certainly not without gravitas. Even in the cosmic ambience of Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez’s early work, there was an emotional intensity that tethered us to our mortal coils, as if connecting the dots between what is possible and what is palpable, and maybe suggesting we could narrow the gap.
Gonzalez’s quartet brought that hope – packaged in dense synth-pop and bright lights – to Club Nokia on Thursday, inviting a capacity crowd to join them on the astral plane and largely succeeding in achieving his music’s colossal ambitions. It was a rock show meets outer-space rave meets high-tech tent revival that at the very least reinforced your belief in believing, even if your teen dreams have evaporated into something in the way of adult nostalgia for those dreams.
- ||| Photos by Laurie Scavo
Even the swampy-sounding venue (compared to M83’s show at the Music Box) failed to diminish the sheer exuberance Gonzalez and bandmates Morgan Kibby, LoÃ¯c Maurin and Jordan Lawlor brought to their 90-minute set, which was set against a starry backdrop and peppered by bright strobes. Part of the concert’s tenor owed to the fact that the Nokia dates are virtually hometown shows – Gonzalez moved to L.A. two years to work on the new album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” and has said the region provided much of the album’s inspiration. (And Kibby has lived here all along.)
So it felt like more than just a shout-out to an appreciative crowd when, a half hour in, Gonzalez bellowed “Los Angeles! Los Angeles!”
Whether slinging a bass, fidgeting with his sci-fi movie-worthy control panel or singing, the 31-year-old was focused all evening, bouncing on the M83 tracks that turned the club into a disco planetarium and plaintive when the quartet slowed it down mid-set (the latter inspiring massive make-out sessions throughout). Predictably, the exclamation point came during M83’s hit “Midnight City” when Gonzalez screamed “The city is my church!” – powerful, even considering (if you step out the moment) he delivered the line inside a theater tucked inside one of L.A. cathedrals of crass commerce.
It was a far cry from Gonzalez’s early live outings in M83, when he was more tentative as a frontman and a vocalist. In fact, if you just judge from appearances, M83 still look like unlikely rock stars. On Thursday, keyboardist/singer Kibby wore a lovely silver dress; the other three looked like guys straight out of band rehearsal who you imagine brought the gear along so they could impress her enough to ask her to prom.
But from the opening note of “Intro” (Gonzalez himself tackled the vocals in the absence of Zola Jesus, who appeared on the album and at the Music Box show), M83 inhabited the music. Maurin makes an unholy racket on the drums. Lawlor, the 20-year-old who won a spot in the touring band after submitting an audition video, cavorted gleefully all over the stage. And Kibby rose to her big moments, soaring at the finish of “Kim & Jessie,” a song off 2008’s “Saturdays = Youth” that she co-wrote.
The layers of synths tooted and wheezed and blared and squealed and, ultimately, seduced. And as on M83’s new album, all the fleeting moments added up to a euphoria that rendered most a little bit wide-eyed, and maybe in the mood for some stargazing.
It took a while for the crowd to warm to opener Big Black Delta, the solo venture of Mellowdrone’s Jonathan Bates that trades in dirty synths, tweaked vocals and more than a little bit of foreboding. But what his 30-minute set lacked in live instrumentation – mostly working in the shadows, Bates sings and manipulates backing tracks while flanked by drummers Amy Wood and Mahsa Zargaran – it made up for in intensity. BBD’s sound had no trouble filling the big room, and “Capsize” and set closer “Huggin & Kissin” hooked plenty on the notion there was more than just M83 to the night.